An excerpt from a book I'm reading:

The doctrine of Israeli nuclear exclusivity was carried out in muted kinetics.

What is the meaning of "muted kinetics"?

An image of the original text, showing the quote in context

Fortress Israel By Patrick Tyler

  • 1
    It just sounds completely stupid - an example of someone who should have been, say, a Doctor or Accountant, trying to write commercially. "Kinetics" suggests "lots of dynamic activity" (it goes without saying the writer has utterly no understanding of what the word actually means). "Muted" just means that (see a dictionary). Translations could include "reserved action" or "being really dynamic, but keeping control of one's self." Note that it's common, in English, for writers who are incompetent/stupid to try to use long words - instead of just stating what they mean. – Fattie Aug 25 '14 at 11:43

In the world of foreign policy, “kinetics” is a euphemism for “bombing” (specifically conventional rather than nuclear bombing; derived from the “kinetic energy” of a gravity bomb). Take this quote from everyone’s favorite congresswoman, Michelle Bachman:

We should use any means necessary to bring down those who seek to bring down the United States. Additionally, Iran needs to understand that there is zero tolerance for them acquiring nuclear weapons. If I was commander-in-chief, I would eliminate their nuclear program if they refused to do so themselves. If we must, I would do so through kinetic means. I would let our enemies know: If you are thinking about acquiring nuclear weapons, don’t expect your efforts to be successful.

And “muted” simply means “softly”, “quietly”, or in a “low-key manner”. In other words

The doctrine of Israeli nuclear exclusivity was carried out in muted kinetics.

Simply means:

Whenever anyone else in the area tried to build facilities for manufacturing nuclear weapons, the Israelis quietly bombed the shit out of them.

Note that “quietly” here doesn’t mean the explosions were silent (obviously), but that the Israelis did it without lot of sabre-rattling first; without raising a fuss or making headlines, or that the action was limited in scope: the opposite of “all out” or “full-fledged” (it also sometimes means “clandestinely”).

UPDATE: Slate, The New York Post, Fox Nation, and the National Review (and, by derivation, Wikipedia) all give a broader definition of the euphemism: “active, lethal, military force”:

Slate, “Birth of a Washington Word”:

In common usage, “kinetic” is an adjective used to describe motion, but the Washington meaning derives from its secondary definition, “active, as opposed to latent. Dropping bombs and shooting bullets — you know, killing people — is kinetic.

The New York Post, “’Kinetic Military Action’ is Still Hell

[Kinetic] simply means the use of active military force — dropping bombs, firing weapons, and the like — as opposed to things like cyberwarfare and the use of nonlethal, high-tech electronic gadgetry.

But in the context of your quote, the specific kinetic action taken was bombing (which is how it’s most often used euphemistically, because bombs have the sense of “kinetics”).

  • Yet another brilliantly written, informative, piece of writing. Characterised by words that mean something and instantly signal the sheer intelligence of the writer. This is like eating your Mom's soup, rather than a candy bar. What a pleasure, DanBron. Note how much better this is than the putz who wrote the original sentence. – Fattie Aug 25 '14 at 11:52
  • 2
    @Joe, thanks for the praise, but people use words for a reason. In particular, the author used the word "kinetics" specifically to avoid the word "bombing". That is common and appropriate in the world of foreign policy, as all diplomatic language is. In other words: the original author's "muted kinetics" is superior language to my "quietly bomb the shit out of" for his purposes. – Dan Bron Aug 25 '14 at 11:55
  • Thanks Dan, your explanation is perfect. I am a non-native English speaker but gradually getting better. – user2083406 Aug 25 '14 at 11:59
  • I disagree, in that you (generously) attribute the writing in question to quality word choice; I attribute it to 'failed at being an ad copywriter and is now trying hard at that newspaper-whatchamcallit-thingy which sort of doesn't pay so much right isn't dat wot dey say but I guess the alternative is primary school teacher ain't it?' :-) By all means: (1) I could be being unfair, we'd have to look at the corpus but I'm afraid to say (2) My comments point to a hugely-general movement of our time: where Idiots who write commercially feel the need to ignore intelligence and be catchy. – Fattie Aug 25 '14 at 12:00
  • 2
    @mplungjan That's fair, and noted. I should make more of a habit of explaining my downvotes. – Dan Bron Aug 25 '14 at 12:21

The phrase is not necessarily an oxymoron. In linguistics, it would be a reasonable phrase that meant 'stiff, subtle gestures'. The choice of 'in' is what makes me consider language as a reference.

'Kinetics' studies movements, and sometimes a lot of intensity is conveyed by the restraint of motion, rather than an excess of it. Some American WASPs get tight and economical with their movement when their emotions run high.

Perhaps the author is indicating economy of action that made something really dramatic appear to be something minimal and commonplace. A single air-raid, that might have happened anyway as a police action, accomplished what might normally require a declaration of war. Intense expectation created obsessive pin-point accuracy rather than widespread destruction.

Since 'kinetics' also means 'destruction by means that are non-chemical, non-nuclear, non-psychological... just plain old physics' it might be a double entendre.


The author (who is an idiot), is trying to say something like ...

-- controlled violence

-- restrained dynamic-ism

-- powerful action, but with self-control

-- aggressive, but with an attempt to alwys be in control of one's self and not become "unhinged" or "uncontrolled"

(It's commonplace in English today that author's "try to be clever" when they have a very low intelligence, little command of the topic at hand, and poor command of words. It could be this comes from the incredible dominance of "advertising English" on the language.)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.